Why the Vortex is one of our Favorite Trails near St. George, Utah


The Vortex trail is in the Red Mountain Wilderness northwest of St. George.  It is one of the coolest hikes you can find in southern Utah.  It is a couple miles down a dirt road off the highway just south of Gunlock and north of Gunlock State Park.

The biggest thing about hiking this trail is you will want to have GPS as most of the trail is over rock where there isn’t actually a trail.  It is really easy to get lost if you don’t know where you are going.  We used the alltrails app and it worked perfectly, even without having downloaded the trail.

This trail is great for almost all ages.  There is a bit of steep hiking, but we had two four year old girls that did great.  We had to carry our 20 month old almost the whole way because he could not navigate the rocks.

Alltrails has the hike listed as 2.3 miles, but my tracker had us at about 3.5 by the time we finished the hike.  We didn’t follow the trail completely and also walked around quite a bit exploring the landscape, especially at the top.

The joy of this trail is that there is never really a dull moment on the trail.  The landscape is constantly changing with beautiful rock formations.  There are interesting bushes, wildflowers and cacti to be seen during the whole hike.

If you go in in the right weather, you can also expect lots of lizards.  Finding lizards kept our kids entertained the whole way back to the car as the weather warmed up and we probably saw a dozen lizards on the way back. Can you spot the lizard hiding in the image below?

What this hike is really all about though is the Vortex of course.  There were actually four vortex formations at the top of the mountain that we saw, all of which had water in them.

The main Vortex was quite stunning, although it wasn’t as big or steep as we expected, which was fine, because the kids had a blast climbing down to the water, which we didn’t know was possible until we got there and found other kids doing it.

There was only one other family up at the top with us and we passed a couple other groups on our way up so the solitude of the hike was also very nice, especially since we went during the whole  Corona Virus social distancing time.

One of the attractions at the main vortex is all the names carved along the walls.  A cool game for the kids to play is trying to find the oldest name.  There are a number of old pioneer names that date back to the beginnings of Utah so it is fun to see.

Although it doesn’t look like it at first glance, you can easily climb down to the bottom of the Vortex. Even our young kids didn’t have a problem and really enjoyed making it down to the bottom. So, if it is a hot day and you want to get down to the water, be sure you having something to get wet in.

The other vortex formations aren’t as impressive, but they are much easier to climb into since they aren’t as steep. 

There are also some big mounds at the very top that are fun to climb on and capture a different view of the area.

The vistas in every direction are simply stunning and make the hike worth it, even if there weren’t any vortexes to capture your attention at the end.

If you or your kids are into stacking rocks to make cairns, there is a section up at the top where there are tons of cairns you can look at or add to.

I can’t recommend this hike enough. Hopefully, it doesn’t get too crowded thanks to people like me who can’t help but share something so cool with everyone (luckily there are so many amazing hikes in Southern Utah it should be okay), but if you are in the St. George Area, this is a must-do family hike!

More Photos and info from the Vortex Trail

As mentioned above, we saw more than a dozen lizards on the trail. They were fast though so getting pictures was tough.

This is the view hiking up. You go around and up the little mound with all the bushes and the vortex is off to the left of the mounds on top of the hill on the right side of the image.

Even our toddler had fun climbing pretty steep walls since there are so many places to grip.

Climbing the top of the hoodoos above the vortexes was a bit more challenging but a lot of fun. She didn’t make it to the top.

Plan to spend a couple hours just hanging out at the top of the hike, you will want to explore and just enjoy the views.

This is from the top of a hoodoo looking back the way you come down the trail.

Small ponds at the top are easier for the kids to play in than the Vortex.

The hoodoos at the top are bigger than you expect. Look how small she looks.

This big pond is not far from the Vortex.

It is easy to approach for any age.

This was on the hike up. The girls had so much fun going off trail and exploring. This is them returning with some moss they had collected.

This was off the trail on the other side of a small ravine, but I liked the look of that tree.

There wasn’t a ton of cacti, but there were some little pockets where it looked like it was growing right out of the rock.

Plan to take lots of breaks with small kids, but the rock provides the opportunity to sit and relax almost anywhere along the trail.

This is on the hike up. The rock formations almost acted like stairs where the path had a steeper incline.

This was on our way back, when we had almost made it back to the car. She reached her quitting point.

at the beginning of the trail when you make it to the bottom of the hill where you park, you get your first sight of some puddles of water.

Early in the trail, you alternate between dirt, sand and rock before eventually turning to all rock.

Terrible quality from my drone, but this shows you how high up you climb. That is not the Vortex, but another pool near the hoodoos at the top.

The kids all made it to the bottom of the Vortex, but it took a cautious descent.

This smaller vortex was just above the big Vortex.

Little pockets of green pop up where there is a big enough indention for water to pool, but not stay for as long as the bigger ones. They are a nice break in the swirling and checkerboard rock formations.

Another shot looking down into the Vortex.

Another shot of the hoodoos up top.

One of the smaller vortex formations.

The view from the hoodoos. The trail starts where those trees are on the green in mid-right of the frame.

The view from the top looking back toward Gunlock.

View looking back down the trail with snow-capped mountains in the background.

Another view looking back toward the trail.

Some detail of the different colors on the rock.

A few from the trail showing the climb ahead. The Vortex is off to the left of the hoodoos.

Some small pools leading up the path.

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